Access to Covid-19 vaccine and Bangladesh

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Apart from compliance with guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO) such as lockdown, wearing masks, social distancing and hand sanitisation, the best possible protection against the Covid-19 pandemic is to get vaccinated. But, vaccine monopoly, excessive nationalism and opportunistic diplomacy of a few rich countries have taken global public health into geopolitics and created a new wave of vaccine divide. Consequently, the fate of vaccinations in developing and poor countries including Bangladesh is at stake, though one lesson this pandemic has taught every country is that no population will be safe until safety of all populations are ensured.

After the Covid-19 vaccine was developed, WHO estimated 11 billion doses of vaccines for a 5.5 billion targeted population to make a pandemic-free safer planet. So far, more than 2.7 billion shots have been injected across 200 countries, and roughly 40 million doses are now being administered a day, according to Our World in Data, a scientific publication under Oxford University.

According to a report, North America comprises only around 5 per cent of the world’s population but accounts for 16 per cent of total Covid-19 vaccines while the European Union (EU) with about 10 per cent of global population has collected 17 per cent of world vaccines.

Asia makes up 59 per cent of the global population and has received 59 per cent of the world's jabs while South America holds 8 per cent of world population and has received 6 per cent of vaccines. Africa with 17 per cent people of the world has managed less than 2 per cent vaccines. Oceania with 1 per cent of the population has managed 0.3 per cent doses of vaccines.

The vaccine gap between rich and poor has become severe. The pace of vaccination among 37 developed countries, 152 developing countries and 46 leased developed countries shows the highest form of vaccine divide.

Bangladesh has so far inoculated less than 3 percent of the country's 163 million people after starting a nationwide vaccination drive on 7 February this year, administering Covishield, the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India (SII). Earlier, Bangladesh inked a pact with the SII on 13 December 2020 to buy 30 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca shots paying about Tk 13 billion (Tk 1,300 crore) in advance.

Under the deal, Bangladesh was to receive 5 million doses of vaccines per month. But SII after supplying 7 million of the contracted 30 million doses of vaccine in two installments has stopped exporting on the excuse of a government ban. Indian government gave 3.3 million vaccines as a gift but could not provide the fair share as per contract or even did not back the money. China gave 1.1 million Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccines as a gift. The United States (US) has contributed 1.06 lakh doses of the Pfizer vaccine as gift and promised to provide 2.5 million doses of Moderna Covid-19 vaccine via Gavi (global vaccine alliance) soon.

Learning from the mistakes from the deal with India, Bangladesh initiated imports from China and Russia while requesting the UK, US, Canada, and Australia for help. With positive nod from China and Russia, Bangladesh has been negotiating with China to purchase 15 million doses of the Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine and 5 million doses of Sputnik COVID vaccine with no headway so far. Over complacency and flattery on Covid control by some ministers coupled with indecision to adopt the doctrine of multilateralism instead of bilateralism sparks questions on diplomatic capability in the global landscape of complex diplomacy.

Corona pandemic is an opportunity for global leaders to reshape the world with the sense of togetherness forgetting the persisting divide. But the growing polarisation of top powers is making the world more individualistic than collective

However, procuring vaccines through bilateral deals by most developing and all least developed countries (LDC) is hindered when the issues of dominance regarding power dynamics, global and regional politics come to the forefront, impacting vaccine deal and supply. Rich countries with affluence-power nexus are resorting to geopolitical preferences and hoarding more vaccines than necessary keeping their international lip service solidarity image in question. Seven ultra rich countries group like G7 are donating Covid-19 vaccines to other developing and least developing countries and promising to donate more after sharp cost-benefit analysis and sensing comparative advantage of geopolitics.

Sometimes, major crises help people to come together for common well-being. Corona pandemic is an opportunity for global leaders to reshape the world with the sense of togetherness forgetting the persisting divide. But the growing polarisation of top powers is making the world more individualistic than collective. The world should treat Covid vaccine as a public good and the know-how and technological instruments should be open to all countries with the ability to produce more vaccines reducing the gaps.

With the recommendation of rich countries, the right to health was articulated as a basic human right under the 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO). Now, access to equitably adequate coronavirus vaccines is a core aspect of the right to health. The obligation and cooperation of elite capitalist and socialist countries under the international human rights instruments especially under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 1966 and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), 1966 can help ensuring certain critical rights including right to health of less privileged countries for equitable access to life-saving Covid-19 vaccine.

The world should come to a consensus to reconsider the complexity of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement on the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) with one size fits all approach to remove patent barrier for developing countries so that they can produce adequate Covid vaccines paving the way for vaccine justice.

* Emdadul Haque is Dhaka based Independent Human Rights Researcher and Freelance Contributor. He can be reached by [email protected] and Twitter @emdadlaw